Blog Post Christine R. Goepfert Jun 25, 2014

Fishy Business

Giant invasive fish are injuring boaters in the Midwest? Crazy but true. A new law will help corral these intruders.

Imagine paddling along in your canoe or going for a swim in a tranquil national park river, enjoying a perfect afternoon. Then, out of nowhere, a fish as large as a golden retriever leaps out of the water toward you. Scary? Definitely. But that’s the least of it.

The monstrous invasive fish known as invasive carp pose a major threat to Minnesota’s fishing, boating, and outdoor recreation economy. They are voracious feeders that can grow more than four feet long, weigh up to 100 pounds, and quickly consume the small native plants in rivers and lakes, devastating the food pyramid and drastically reducing native fish populations. One species of carp can jump as high as 10 feet out of the water, damaging boats and even injuring boaters. While these incidents may seem amusing at first, invasive carp’s impact on the water sports industry in Minnesota could have serious economic consequences for the state. It could also impact visitors’ experiences in two special national parks where enjoying the water is the primary activity, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA) and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

To combat this threat, NPCA is co-chairing the Stop Carp Coalition, with support from local partners representing conservation groups, anglers, marinas, and private property owners, to stop invasive carp from establishing a foothold in Minnesota. Although present in the state, these fish have not yet established themselves in Minnesota’s waters. The closest reproducing population is just south of Minnesota in Iowa. But there are reasons to worry—people have caught invasive carp in several places along the Mississippi River in Minnesota, moving upstream in search of new habitat to invade. The coalition’s efforts are focused on making sure Minnesota waterways do not become infested. The group recently worked to pass new federal legislation that will help do just that.

Earlier this month, President Obama signed into law the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) that included two new tools NPCA has been advocating for that will aid in the fight against invasive carp in Minnesota’s waterways.

One important provision in WRRDA will close the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock in Minneapolis within one year to help stop the spread of invasive carp further north of the lock and effectively protect thousands of miles of rivers and lakes upstream. While closing this lock does not protect the entire 72-mile stretch of MNRRA or the St. Croix River, which meets the Mississippi south of this lock, it is the best available strategy to prevent the northward spread of these invasive fish. NPCA applauds the leadership of both Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Keith Ellison who championed this strategy through bipartisan legislation in Congress.

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The second key provision establishes a federal multi-agency task force, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will coordinate federal efforts to combat the threat of invasive carp in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins.  This new federal focus, in addition to the state and local efforts already underway, will help ensure that resources at all levels of government will be brought together to address this threat. NPCA is grateful to Representative Betty McCollum for her leadership to champion this critical strategy in Congress.

While passage of this legislation is an enormous victory for NPCA, our work is not done. The campaign continues to advocate for funding to research this invasive species and install deterrents at lower locks along the Mississippi River to protect the St. Croix and Minnesota Rivers. A public education campaign is also underway to educate and inform Minnesotans on what they can do to help stop invasive carp from moving further north and protect the state’s rivers and national parks.

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